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Thursday, 11 October 1984
Page: 2127

Mr HAYDEN (Minister for Foreign Affairs)(12.15) —in reply-I will respond quickly to the points that have been made. The first point made by the honourable member for Warringah (Mr MacKellar) and endorsed quite strongly by the honourable member for Cowper (Mr Ian Robinson) was a criticism of the processes and the general accommodation in the Sydney Passport Office. It is correct that money has been spent in an endeavour to improve the arrangements there. I also have a feeling that there is room for further improvement. The Department acknowledges that.

Mr MacKellar —They are going to move them again, and the cost is $250,000.

Mr HAYDEN —I know. Under the recent Budget arrangements a substantial number of additional staff were obtained specifically to provide services in this area. One trusts that such arrangements will overcome the problems of delays to which the honourable members referred. In that respect I have been provided with a table which shows nonetheless that on average-we should all bear in mind the distortions which can come from averages-the delays at all of the major centres are relatively minor. When there is an emergency, I believe that the processing can be expedited. I seek leave to have that table incorporated in Hansard.

Leave granted.

The table read as follows-



Counter Office

Sydney 14 21 Melbourne 6 12 Adelaide 7 days 7 days Perth 7 10 Hobart 3 7 Brisbane 9 10 Civic 7 10 Darwin 21 21 Newcastle 3 7

Excluding postal delay

Average 8 12

Mr HAYDEN —The honourable member for Cowper raised a number of concerns. Apart from the matter I have just attended to, he was concerned about adopted persons in the State of Victoria. I am advised that statutory declarations can be provided by the persons concerned or, if they are minors, by the adopting parents and that this is acceptable. I am assured this procedure gets over the problem to which the honourable member referred. If, however, he finds that problems still arise, and draws them to my attention or directly to the attention of the Department, I will respond promptly.

The honourable member for Cowper raised some concern about people having difficulty in establishing their citizenship. As I recall, he said that when people of British background who live in Australia have a need to leave this country quickly for some personal reason or other and require a passport they are often unable to establish their Australian citizenship. To obtain an Australian passport one must be an Australian citizen. However, when there is some confusion or doubt, as in the circumstances the honourable member outlined, or if a very serious problem stands in the way of rapid facilitation of movement of a person to another part of the world, bearing in mind that the circumstances are pressing as the honourable member pointed out, documents of identification can be provided. This is done regularly. This allows a person to sort out his problems and to get a passport, whether it be Australian or British.

The honourable member for Warringah suggested rather unkindly that passports would be better administered under any ministerial responsibility but that of mine. I do not think he put it quite as brutally as that--

Mr MacKellar —Or your successors.

Mr HAYDEN —Thank you. I am sifting the kindness of the motivation that directs him, often fairly accurately. I am assured by my departmental officers that they have never been able more successfully to cope with the responsibility of administering passport matters than they have been in the Department of Foreign Affairs. I might add that I am sure that is a very wise declaration on their part. If the honourable member for Warringah or anyone else wants to submit to the Government a strong case that there should be a shift, it will always be looked at. It will be looked at receptively, but it will not necessarily result in our endorsing the proposal. I think it would be unwise to have a closed mind on any proposal submitted to us which was designed for or motivated by the purpose of improving the general administration.

The honourable member for Gippsland (Mr McGauran) raised the case of justices of the peace having authority to provide endorsements for applicants for passports. The range of people authorised to provide that sort of declaration was hugely diminished as a result of the recommendations of the Stewart Royal Commission of Inquiry into Drug Trafficking. Those recommendations came as a result of the rather startling and very disturbing disclosures about the illicit narcotics trade affecting this country. I do not think one has to labour any points on this issue. On a bipartisan basis we are all concerned about that and we recognise the extraordinary difficulties involved in trying to block off the activities of these people.

One initiative that had to be undertaken by government was to put in place the Commission's recommendations. I stress 'government' because my predecessor as Foreign Affairs Minister, the then honourable member for Corangamite, Mr Tony Street, authorised the arrangements which were put in place and which are now operating. I, in fact, was responsible for their inception on a date which had been set by Tony Street, but he put those proposals in place. I do not put the situation in this context to try to shift responsibility. On the contrary, I share the concern and endorse the decision that Tony Street took. I merely illustrate the need to be fairly discerning and restrictive in providing this sort of authority by recalling that in New South Wales alone there are well in excess of 160,000 justices of the peace and in Queensland well over 50,000 people who have that public title. In those circumstances it has been felt that it is not appropriate to relist justices of the peace to have this authority, bearing in mind the very firm conclusions and recommendations in general terms submitted by the Stewart Royal Commission.

Question resolved in the affirmative.

Bill read a second time.